One-One: The New Nil-Nil
The opening weekend in the National Women’s Soccer League proved that the 1-1 draw is the result in season right now. With three of the four matches ending with this result, it proved that goals will be at a premium in the early stages of the season with all the teams still getting used to playing with each other on the field. While some full rosters have been on the field together for maybe two or three training sessions, with some players only arriving a day or two before the weekend, some of the play in each match looked disjointed at times. But then there were a couple of moments of magic that gave fans a glimpse of what is to come this season. With that, lets take a look back at week one with some top players, the little things that won’t be seen in the box score and the things that need a little improving for next week:
- FC Kansas City Blues Standouts: Two players had a major impact on the FC Kansas City result on Saturday night against Portland, and the impact didn’t come from the most well-known players on the field. Renae Cuellar scored the first goal in NWSL history and played well up front, doing a lot of the work to alleviate pressure and getting on the end of long balls. And Jen Buczkowski was a rock in the center of the field as well, one of the more underrated players in the old WPS. She controlled a lot of the play in front of the defense and was one of the primary reasons why Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair didn’t have much to do on the night. Those two played were influential on the outcome of the match and teams in the future will want to keep an eye on them going forward.
- Adrianna Franch and Ashlyn Harris: Both these goalkeepers for their respective teams, despite each giving up a goal (and Franch got the loss for the Western New York Flash), were phenomenal this week. First off, this was Franch’s first-ever professional appearance and had the daunting task of trying to stop Australian International Lisa De Vanna for Sky Blue on Sunday. And she did the job, twice denying De Vanna with great 1v1 saves and made a couple of other finger-tippers as well. And for Harris, she was good for 91 minutes and stopped a tough 1v1 on Sydney Leroux in what was a frightening moment for many USWNT fans as when those two collided late in the Spirit/Breakers match. But Harris, who received the brunt of the collision, shook off the injury to only see Leroux beat her off of a nice slipped in ball from Libby Guess minutes later in stoppage time.
The Little Things:
Lisa Cole’s Late Substitutes: Under FIFA regulations, you are allowed three substitutions per match, and it is up to each coach how they choose to use them. Some use one, some use two and some wait until about the 80th minute to use all three. Well Lisa Cole used only two subs on the night, but both had an impact on the match and one of her subs paved the way for Boston to score their late equalizing goal. She inserted Libby Guess in the 75th minute for Kyah Simon up front and Lisa-Marie Woods in the 85th minute for Jo Dragotta. Both of these players brought a lot of energy to the field and eventually Guess was on the receiving end of an Ashley Phillips long ball and put Leroux through in stoppage time that led to the equalizing goal. Sometimes your moves are great and sometimes they’re not, but for this match, Lisa Cole had managed the match just right.
Sky Blue’s Jersey Sponsor: One of the things that I was tweeting about in the run-up to the first weekend of matches is that five of the eight teams have jersey sponsors already announced and Sky Blue, Washington and Chicago all were without jersey sponsors named. But when the live stream kicked on for the Sky Blue match I noticed something was on them, and said the words 2NDFLOOR. After doing a little research this is a helpline for New Jersey youth, ages around 10-24, for those who are facing troubles or issues in their lives and need help. These issues can range from bullying to eating disorders to personal health and any point in between. I think this is a great idea from the Sky Blue organization to promote an outlet for youth who need people to talk to about serious issues and asking the youth to reach out for help before it’s too late and there will be always someone to listen to.
The Attendance: An opening match crowd of 6,784 was a nice sight to see as FC Kansas City and Portland Thorns FC took to the field for the inaugural match. And the crowd numbers, while not as big as that because of the seating capacities, were still pretty consistent across the board. 2,611 filled the seat at Rutgers’ Yurcak Field for the Sky Blue/WNY Flash match, a standing room only crowd of 2,634 at Somerville’s Dilboy Stadium for Boston/Washington and 1,255 attended the Chicago/Seattle match at the Benedictine Sports Complex. So overall for a first weekend, attendances were decent but the majority of each stadium was filled and there was a positive atmosphere as well at each match.
The Things to Work On:
Don’t Promise Things You Can’t Deliver Yet: And yes we are talking about the streaming content from week one of NWSL action. The social media outcry was there enough that this wasn’t an issue to be ignored. In an era where technology is growing at a pace that even we can’t compete with, you have to take all necessary precautions and preparation before announcing something like every match would be streamed live on Youtube. I will grant the fact that this announcement came days, if not hours, before teams had to launch their streams and all four had flaws. The Kansas City for the first half wasn’t bad, but then the lag became nine minutes behind the action where there was no point in watching because social media was updating the game faster than the stream. Sky Blue’s stream didn’t go live until the second half, though had decent quality at times in that half. Chicago’s English stream never went live but their Spanish feed was live but froze every minute and Boston’s independent stream, while the most consistent, did have it’s own jumpy problems. So what I have to say for week two is fix what you need to fix or give people a heads up advance. I do appreciate the reps from Boston, Chicago and Sky Blue saying that they understand their fans frustration and are doing everything they can to fix their respective systems before their next matches.
Week Two: Match to Watch:
Seattle Reign FC vs. Portland Thorns FC. Sunday April 21, 2pm (Local Time) Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, OR
Outside of the fact that this is the first of many Women’s Cascadia Derby’s, but its the anticipation of how women’s soccer will be received in Portland is what is making this match so intriguing. More importantly for the folks of Portland, how many people are they going to stuff in the 20,000 seat stadium because Merritt Paulson, founder of the Thorns, has already mentioned that 17,000 have bought tickets for the match and there could be more. Plus will the Timbers Army make an appearance as well? But on the field, the forward tandem of Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan were shut down by FCKC and they will want to improve at home. And for Seattle, they let a lead slip away on the road in Chicago and hope that Christine Nairn (week one’s goalscorer for the Reign) and co. will get more points in their three-week road-trip before opening at home in Early May.
Week One Results
FC Kansas City 1-1 Portland Thorns FC
Sky Blue FC 1-0 Western New York Flash
Chicago Red Stars 1-1 Seattle Reign
Boston Breakers 1-1 Washington Spirit
JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. While his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself of being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras). He is the Student General Manager at 107.7 The Bronc at Rider and has contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ area of high school and collegiate sports including The Rider News and Fish4Scores.com. He became involved with Our Game Magazine early in 2012 when upon following OGM on Twitter, he was contacted within minutes (which caught him by surprise) by Tiffany about working with the team. After spending the summer covering the USL W-League and the WPSL-Elite league as an intern, he is looking forward to continue working with the OGM team, especially on games in the US.